Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Queen Elephantine Surya CDR
The Child Readers Music Heard Far Off CD
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba Segu Blue CD
David Newlyn A Nervous State of Mind CS
Mozart Requiem CD
Steve Reich Drumming
The Other Side Of The Mirror: Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 DVD

I haven't really been listing much of the unsolicited stuff I get because I haven't really been listening to it. I am a grown human being with a busy modern life and only have time to listen to 30 or 40 albums a week, and not all of those are going to be brand new stuff I've never heard of that showed up in my mail pile. I mean, I some of those 30 or 40 are gonna be Led Zep albums and/or Dead shows and that's just the way it is. I'd never heard of Queen Elephantine before but the CDR they sent did make it into the player, and here's the reasons: weird name, weird art, "self-released CDR recorded in Hong Kong," slightly occult feel, "a long contemplative trip into the world of inner visions," but this is really just turgid stoner-metal, and just because a stoner-metal song is 65 minutes long does not make it automatically good. The basic sound of the band is acceptable, maybe even slightly idiosyncratic, and might have made an interesting 10-minute song, but for the last 40 minutes and especially the last 20 I couldn't believe it was still going. The Child Readers is a project with Jewelled Antler connections released by the Soft Abuse label, the 3rd or 4th such release I think. All of these discs have kind of gone right through me with nice sounds that don't stick (except of course for the Flying Canyon s/t masterpiece and Blood of the Sunworm by the Giant Skyflower Band... that's a good one), and indeed, the Child Readers play lots of nice sounds, some fairly glorious, like acoustic strings electrified and buzzing, and barely tangible keyboard sounds glittering in the distance, but the meandering/muttering/mumbling attempts at songwriting kinda negate the whole thing. It seems like an homage to the not-so-likable aspects of mid-period Tower Recordings... (is it just me or has Fraternity of Moonwalkers not held up so good?) Bassekou Kouyate is a ngoni player from Mali, and his CD is on the German label Out Here Records, which is distributed by Forced Exposure, which is who sent this promo. I don't think I would've picked this up otherwise, as it seems to be presented with that safe world music marketing sheen that Sublime Frequencies really deprogrammed us from, that sheen that SF associate Uncle Jim would call "beige" (which is kinda funny because FE distributes SF too), but the music itself is great. Basically, any live ngoni music with no-frills production is going to be great, and this is a ngoni quartet, which is crazy - the playing is so versatile and expansive I assumed there were other instruments on here. (C'mon, there's gotta be, right?) The Dylan DVD is a must-see for anyone remotely interested. I mean, it's not like it's all fantastic - I hope to never see nor hear the Dylan/Baez version of "With God On My Side" ever again - but everything here from all three festivals is presented rough and ready, with absolutely no modern-day talking heads edited in, which is enough recommendation to me. There are a couple interviews here and there that took place right then and there on the festival grounds, and Murray Lerner is a fine director in the rock verite style. (I also highly recommend his Isle of Wight movie.) One of the first songs on here, "North Country Blues" from an afternoon workshop, is a great example of how Bob can get a crowd to hang on every line of his songs as he delivers the story and message. Also from 1963 is a pretty searing version of "Only A Pawn In Their Game," and I think I actually prefer his 1963 stuff to the stirring and flashing and NEW but also kinda imprecise 1964 versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Chimes of Freedom," which is actually kind of a strident letdown. But the electric set from 1965, or should I say the two songs he plays with the electric band.... wow. I can see what the hub-bub was about. I mean, opener "Maggie's Farm" really does just sound like a thug-punk runaway train, the drummer from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band not really knowing the song and just driving it straight ahead with no attempt at dynamics or nuance, Dylan's rhythm guitar basically inaudible so you can't really hear the song's one chord change when it actually does happen, Mike Bloomfield just GOONING OUT on lead guitar, slashing through the songs with his impudent spastic head-shake, and here's Bob who just two years earlier was wearing a tucked-in work-shirt and singing impassioned topical songs about the rights and dignity of workers, spitting out the words "I AIN'T GONNA WORK ON MAGGIE'S FARM NO MOAH!!!" I mean, how much more a thumb-nosing could the folk crowd get? Then he goes into a roaring version of "Like A Rolling Stone" and it's like, my god, sure it's loud, but how could the audience not realize they were hearing a work of genius? I mean "Maggie's Farm" is a nightmare that hurtles by in a near-incoherent rush, but "Rolling Stone" is heavenly no matter how raw the presentation. Then Bob leaves, gets cheered, booed, invited back out all wild-eyed, lit up, and sweaty with an acoustic borrowed from Johnny Cash, asking for an E harmonica which someone throws up on stage, going right into imprecise but flashing versions of "Tambourine Man" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (another highly appropriate title - did he have this all scripted out or what?) and then that's it, rock history and therefore art history being made big time.

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